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Several species of salmon are available in cans, packed with protein and Omega-3s, as well as calcium, vitamins, and selenium. Of the two most popular varieties, sockeye and pink, sockeye has a better nutritional profile and more appealing orange-red color, so it’s our first choice, even though pink is less expensive.
Caught by methods that limit by-catch of other species in very short seasons to prevent overfishing, Wild Planet’s Alaskan salmon is a solid choice at a good price point. The company is particularly transparent about its sustainable practices and explaining why they make the choices they do.
Best Natural with Bones/Skin: Pure Alaska Salmon Think Pink Wild Alaska Pink Salmon Traditional Pack, 7.5 oz., Pack of 12
The Alaskan salmon fishery is 100 percent wild-caught and certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, which determines guidelines for sustainability, so it’s always a good bet to choose a product that contains all Alaskan salmon.
Pure Alaska caught our attention because it processes fish within hours of catching it, and the traditional pink salmon has a fair price for its quality. The company won a Good Food Award in 2018 for its sustainable practices.
Pink salmon actually cooks up tan or grey, much like albacore tuna, which it resembles in both texture (small flakes) and taste, especially when the salmon is boneless and skinless. But when the processor cans salmon in the traditional manner—cut in steaks with bones and skin still on the pieces—pink salmon is especially high in calcium. The bones don’t need to be removed, as they crumble into tiny bits, but the grit and appearance may lack appeal.
Pure Alaska’s website, which tells the story of the fishing family who has owned the company for decades, encourages consumers to “be brave and embrace those skin and bones.”
This large can of bone-in, skin-on salmon is made from wild Alaskan pink salmon like many others, and it’s perfectly edible: mild and submerged in a considerable amount of juice. The price point is low, and cans are larger than those available by smaller processors, so this option may be good for families on a budget.
However, it is unclear whether the fish is packed in water or in natural juices, and the quality is a step down from some of the premium brands, according to our research.
This brand edged out its bargain competition because of the Trace My Catch feature code on the can. Our can listed “the Alaska Salmon fishery” as the source of the salmon. It was caught by a purse seiner fishing vessel, and then shipped to a cannery in Thailand after initial processing. The cannery itself is located in Thailand, resulting in a “Product of Thailand” label on the can, though the fish are caught in Alaska. The website outlines the mechanized canning process.
Using the code was tricky; the website says to use all the numbers, but we succeeded only when eliminating some numbers.
Sustainable seafood journalist Paul Greenberg advocates buying canned salmon over tuna for both health and environmental reasons, including issues with mercury in the fish. Though mercury accumulation is not nearly the problem it is in most canned tuna, salmon can contain trace amounts of mercury. To ease the concerned consumer’s mind, Safe Catch states it tests every fish for mercury, and it has the “lowest mercury limit of any brand,” which appears to be a “30X Stricter Mercury Limit than the FDA.”
Partnering with the American Pregnancy Association, Safe Catch emphasizes its measures to ensure a safe product: no BPAs in the can material, no fillers or additives, no GMO-soy broth, and no precook processing. The fish are skinless and boneless, sustainably caught by MSC certified fisheries in Alaska, according to the website. The canning is done at a facility in Thailand.
Silver retort pouches are gaining in popularity for shipping shelf-stable cooked fish. They are lighter than cans, which make them convenient for emergency kits, hiking, or picnics where their portability and easy opening would be valuable. Unopened pouches last without refrigeration at least four years, according to the manufacturer. SeaBear offers bulk purchasing of pouches, too.
SeaBear has been operating in its own smokehouse and cannery in Anacortes, WA, since 1957. The sockeye is premium quality and 100 percent wild, but note that SeaBear buys fish from other sources in the Pacific Northwest than Alaska, likely Puget Sound near its facility.
It is packed without skin and bones, lightly flaked, and flavored with only a bit of sea salt. The fish is cooked in its own juices in the pouch, then vacuum-sealed. At 3.5 ounces, the pouches hold considerably less volume than a traditional can, which equates to roughly a single serving portion.
A family-owned operation with headquarters in the Seattle area, Loki has been in business since 1979. They catch wild pink salmon in Southeast Alaska and Puget Sound with a small number of boats with gillnets, which allow for quick retrieval and the freshest fish. Though the Puget Sound fishery is not MSC-certified, the company asserts that the pink salmon have healthy runs.
The skinless and boneless, salt- and oil-free pink salmon wins points for its high quality and taste, which is flavorful enough not to miss the salt. It would be great for those on a sodium-restricted diet or in any convenient hot meal. These cans are BPA-free, containing large pieces of flaky fish without much liquid. Harmless white “curd” atop the fish indicates a high level of protein.
The five Nuu-chah-nulth nations acquired majority ownership of St. Jean’s, a family-owned seafood company in Canada, in 2015. With a history of over 100 years, St. Jean’s operates from a facility in Nanaimo, British Columbia. These canned wild sockeye are perfect for consumers wanting to support fishing heritage and First Nations.
Fresh fish are skinned, deboned, chunked, and hand-packed with a bit of salt into BPA-free cans with easy-open tab lids, then cooked once in the can during the pressure canning process. Nothing else is added, so you can be sure it’s gluten-free and without additives for a high protein diet. The salmon is harvested from sustainable sources in the Pacific Northwest and processed at the cannery and smokehouse in B.C.
Based in Juneau, Taku Fisheries purchases 7 million pounds of wild Alaskan salmon each year, processing it in their smokehouse, cannery, and retail shop overlooking the Gastineau Channel. They process many kinds of Alaskan seafood, including canned chinook and coho salmon, as well as the more familiar sockeye and pink, and smoked versions of their canned salmon. One of their most popular items, alder wood smoked sockeye salmon, can be purchased online in cans and jars.
Cut in fillets and marinated in a secret blend of spices, the smoked salmon makes great spreads mixed with cream cheese or eaten directly from the can. The alder wood smoke deepens the reddish hue of the fish and enhances the savory flavor.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Food educator Jennifer Burns Bright teaches and writes about Pacific seafood. She packs up her own tuna and salmon on the Oregon Coast, so she knows what to look for in good canned fish.